Love Beyond: The biblical musical set to take Wembley by storm
With Hollywood's 'Year of the Bible' now in full swing, another biblical epic is set to hit London this October.
Love Beyond, a musical following the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation, will show at Wembley Arena for just two nights – offering audiences of up to 20,000 the opportunity to enjoy an evening of music, drama and song and a unique telling of the "love story at the heart of the Bible".
"Love Beyond is a story of beginnings and endings. Genesis to Revelation. A journey beginning with the joy of new life and hope, which travels through a dark season of hopelessness and despair to finally come, after the greatest battle the world has ever seen, to a place of hope, redemption and renewal," the website reads.
With the entire show performed through song and a cast of top West End actors including Simon Shorten – who understudies Jean Valjean in Les Mis – and J Marie Cooper of The Voice, Act One begins with Creation and the story then follows the sweep of the Bible, ending with the wedding celebration between Jesus and his bride, the Church.
Although the show is just hitting the stage this year, writer and producer Richard Harley says he began planning the musical fifteen years ago, after receiving a vision from God.
"I was sat in Wembley arena watching my son in a choir concert, and I felt God drop a picture of a big, elaborate world-class production that told his love story into my mind," he explains.
"The audience were half Christian and half non-Christian - it wasn't a church event – and it became a real burden for me to see it happen."
A worship leader at the time, Harley eventually gave up working full-time to pursue his dream and, after a chance encounter, met with Tabitha Webb who was playing Christine in Phantom of the Opera in the West End. They began working together to craft a storyline and write music that expressed the heart of the redemptive biblical narrative.
"We wanted to make it accessible for non-Christians and to utilise the massive range that West End actors have in their voices," he says.
"We're just discovering how that will work now, actually. The story appeals very naturally to a Christian audience, but the heart behind it is for non-Christians to come and see it. If the arena is full up with Christians it's a waste of time; we know the story anyway!"
Harley is keen to note that the production focuses on the "big picture" of the Bible, and doesn't include every story from Scripture.
"We haven't gone into detail with any particular scene; it's taken the big picture and it's all relational. There's quite a big section on Adam and Eve with the Trinity; right from the first scene in Creation the Trinity are on stage the whole time and the production is built around relationships.
"We see the Trinitarian relationship, their relationship with Adam and Eve, the broken relationship and God's heart to restore it. We don't look at concepts; it's straightforward, that's what the Bible says, and we pick up on the big relational thread that runs through the Bible."
Many of the actors involved are Christians, some are not, but they all gather for worship and prayer every morning, something that Harley was determined to cultivate from the beginning.
"We advertised for the play and had 1,000 applicants for nine roles," he says.
"It was open to Christians and non-Christians, but we told applicants that we would start each day with prayer and worship, so they knew that it's a faith-based production, and knew what kind of environment and culture we would create."
And as for whether they are hoping to follow Hollywood's example, bringing the Bible to centre stage and placing Love Beyond beside other huge West End musicals such as Phantom and Les Mis?
"Absolutely!" Harley exclaims. "There's no subject that's taboo in musicals. Our research shows that no one is put off by biblical content, though very often Christians are disappointed by Hollywood's version of Christianity, but hopefully they won't be by this. It's very accurate.
"All the music is co-written by Tabitha and myself, as an expression of our faith. We haven't written to try to appease a certain style, but it's naturally come from our faith.
"We're just trying to follow what God's asking us to do, and be obedient to him."
Tickets will be available from the Wembley Arena box office soon. For more information and details of group booking discounts, go to www.lovebeyondmusical.com.